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Arts & Culture
Fri March 14, 2014
Is this a Banksy? Or did two Detroit guys do it?
This next story might win for weirdest art mystery we've heard in a while.
For a few years, a Detroit art gallery has proudly displayed a big piece of street art.
It's widely believed to be by Banksy, the most famous, mysterious street artist working today.
But now that the gallery is trying to sell the piece, two local artists claim they are the real painters.
It sure looks like a Bansky – right?
The 555 Gallery in Southwest Detroit is scrappy.
It's in an old police precinct, with a defunct jail and everything.
And the first piece you see when you walk in is the big, eight-foot tall spray-painted piece on a cinder block wall.
It's a picture of a little boy, dressed in black, with big haunting eyes and a can of red paint.
The words "I remember when all this was trees" are written beside him.
It's either one of two things: a piece by one of the most famous, controversial, biggest-name artists today.
Or, it's something two guys did as kind of a joke.
If you need a recap: Banksy is a big deal. He's a British artist who works mostly in graffiti, at night, sometimes spray painting massive, building-sized pieces that are clever and subversive.
He's also a mystery: Completely anonymous, he usually doesn't take credit for his street art – sometimes the closest he comes is putting a picture of his work up on his Web site.
If you really want to do your homework, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is a documentary about Banksy and the street art movement.
Some of his stuff has sold for over a million dollars - but that's more the exception than the rule.
Was Bansky even here to begin with? So many questions!
And about four years ago, Banksy came to Detroit.
At least, that's what everybody thought.
"Well, my name is Carl Goines, I'm the executive director and one of the founders of 555."
That's a nonprofit Detroit gallery that gives artists studio space, does art education, community programs – that kind of thing.
And according to Goines, around the time the documentary about Banksy was showing in the area, a photographer friend of Goines named Billy Voo went to Banksy's website.
And there, he saw a new piece: a picture of mural that looked like it was in Detroit's very own Packard Automotive Plant.
Turns out, it was.
The piece was huge news. Newspapers all over the country wrote about Detroit's Banksy.
Of course, the Packard plant is crumbling.
So to preserve the piece, the 555 Gallery lifted the entire cinder block wall into its gallery for public display – even though critics said it wasn’t theirs to take.
"We came to the conclusion that this is a significant piece of art that will be recognized historically, and we should do what we can to be a part of that," says Goines.
Now, four years later, the gallery wants to sell it.
And that's when things get really weird.
These two guys say they did it. And no, they don't have proof.
"I painted the, uh, uh piece. I'm not going to call it the Banksy."
This, obviously, is not Banksy.
Matt Naimi is the founder of Recycle Here, a place that's half recycling center, half massive art studio.
He's not an artist exactly, but his friend Carl Oxley III is, and Naimi says together, he and Oxley wanted to create kind of a cheeky homage to Banksy.
"We just spray painted it. It took us about literally 22 minutes," he says.
He says they enjoyed watching it take on a life of its own, so they didn't come forward even when the 555 Gallery moved it and put it on display.
Although Oxley says he never liked the idea of anybody removing the piece from its original location – an opinion he says he was very vocal about when the removal took place.
Yet it's only now that the gallery is trying to sell it that they're coming clean, says Naimi.
"They told the world basically that they were going to put it in the public trust. So at that point, fine, let it be on display. When they basically decided last week that they were going to sell the Banksy, we decided to come forward," he says.
Naimi admits they don't have proof, exactly.
As for why Banksy would put a picture up on his Web site of someone elses's work, Naimi says that's the kind of prank Banksy would love to do.
Meanwhile, the 555 Gallery's Carl Goines says they need the sale proceeds to pay local artists and offer more community classes.
“It was a hard decision," he says.
Still, Goines says he's confident the piece really is a Banksy, but he says it's too soon to tell if these new claims will get in the way of a sale.
Arts & Culture